The Badgers begin a new era on Saturday morning.
Gone is Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor Bret Bielema, who left his coaching job at Wisconsin so his assistants could get higher credit limits at Arkansas.
In steps Gary Andersen, a no-nonsense kind of guy that doesn’t glom onto the media attention. All he cares about are his kids and winning football games.
The Badgers have won the Big Ten the last three years, yet you wouldn’t know it from all the attention that Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller have been getting at Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s best player is a former walk-on that put his team on his back in high school to capture the state title. However, Jared Abbrederis won’t have the luxury of playing opposite a star receiver. More often than not, he will see himself surrounded by skilled, pass-catching tight ends simply because nobody really separated himself as a No. 2 wideout in fall camp.
The running backs, as per usual, will remain solid. Melvin ‘Flash’ Gordon is primed for a huge season after surprising everyone with nine carries for a whopping 216 yards and a score in the Big Ten Championship Game last December. James White will get the lion’s share of carries early, but look for Gordon to claim the top spot soon enough.
On defense, the Badgers will employ a new 3-4 scheme that will be better suited to sniff out turnovers. The linebackers, arguably the best unit in the nation, are led by All-America candidate Chris Borland. The senior made 11 percent of the team’s tackles last year and will be playing alongside Ethan Armstrong, who is poised for a huge season after starting all 14 games last year.
However, once again the Achilles heel for this team is the secondary. That is especially painful when you play college football and over 60 percent of teams’ offenses are predicated on a pass-first mentality. It’s so bad that transfer quarterback Tanner McEvoy has been talked about playing in the secondary since he may not see any time under center this year. After senior safety Dezman Southward, the secondary is severely limited and it will show its growing pains when it faces a knowledgeable and talented quarterback.
If the Badgers don’t get a consistent pass rush up front and if it doesn’t own the line scrimmage, the inexperienced cornerbacks will be vulnerable.
The Badgers don’t face a legitimate opponent until Week 3 when they travel to Arizona State and then two weeks later travel to Columbus to take on the sexy pick to dethrone Alabama in the BCS National Title.
Whoever starts at quarterback for the Badgers isn’t the prototypical player Andersen wants at that position. He wants a smart kid that not only makes all the throws, but can also cripple a defense with his running ability. Which means, he is searching for the next Russell Wilson.
Sophomore Joel Stave is an adequate starter but not someone to build a team around with all of his mental mistakes and bad reads. And sixth-year senior Curt Phillips doesn’t possess a strong arm, yet he can scamper a bit despite having three knee surgeries spot his Wisconsin career.
The Badgers get a break by not facing Michigan and Nebraska from the Legends Division, and instead drawing Iowa and a very talented Northwestern team.
The 3-4 defense will surprise people at how athletic and rangy the linebackers are. Even though the offensive line has had to play musical chairs for most of spring and fall camp, this is Wisconsin and it will remain a place that runs it well between the tackles.
Projecting the 2013 season
- Wisconsin 57, UMass 7
- Wisconsin 45, Tennessee Tech 6
- Wisconsin 24, Arizona State 20
- Wisconsin 31, Purdue 17
- Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21
- Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 23
- Wisconsin 28, Illinois, 24
- Wisconsin 34, Iowa 20
- Wisconsin 30, BYU 24
- Wisconsin 45, Indiana 31
- Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 17
- Wisconsin 27, Penn State 13
Final regular season record: 10-2
To contact Cory Jennerjohn e-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @CoryJennerjohn.